Thursday, June 21, 2012
Theater review: South Pacific at Granville Arts Center in Garland
I cannot remember the last time I felt so profoundly moved.
I can think of few experiences as exhilarating as attending a musical at The Granville Arts Center in Garland. With their live orchestra and excellent acoustics you will find yourself submerged in the splendid songs and gorgeous arrangements culled from the canon of classic American Musical Theatre. You still have an opportunity to attend Garland Summer Musicals' glorious, stirring revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (playing through June 24). I can tell you even now, tunes like “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali Ha’i,” and “A Wonderful Guy” are coming back to me unbidden and sometimes, eliciting tears.
Adapted from James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tales of the South Pacific, it tells the story of two couples - Ensign Nellie Forbush, a nurse, and Emile de Becque, a civilian planter, and Lieutenant Joseph Cable and Liat, a native ingénue and Bloody Mary’s daughter. South Pacific opens as Emile is courting Nellie over wine and coffee. He is obviously older and well off but his genuine demeanor and warmth are an obvious match for Nellie who is brimming with canny joie de vivre.
Lt. Cable is a handsome, energetic, naval officer who has come to the islands to help them seize the advantage during the upheaval of World War II. Bloody Mary, a worldly, elderly merchant and entrepreneur (sort of like Mother Courage) sets him up with her daughter Liat, and as she has hoped, they fall in love.
The interracial aspects of these two romances create the tension in South Pacific, and before it’s all resolved there will be much turmoil and heartbreak. And of course, the lush, overwhelming bliss of caring deeply for another as only Rodgers and Hammerstein can evoke, without sap or cliché. Consider the simplicity of a line like “Younger than springtime am I…” So direct, yet so poetic, so vibrant. Can anyone be younger than springtime? And yet this is how it feels to share that profound connection.
South Pacific uncovers racism as the impediment to these two pairs of lovers, so wise in every other aspect of their lives, yet blindly obedient to tacit cultural indoctrination. Oscar Hammerstein II was never shy about addressing social ills in his work on or off the stage and used such content fearlessly to craft intensely altruistic, conscientious shows that were as compelling as they were pleasurable.
To my mind, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” remains one of the most visionary, incisive, poignant examples of social commentary to inform American Musical Theatre. It may not be as wry or enraged as Brecht or Sondheim, but is unmistakably powerful.
How can I do justice to my afternoon at GSM’s South Pacific? I cannot remember the last time I felt so profoundly moved. So overcome. From the vivid, witty costuming of Michael Robinson and Suzi Shankle, to the fresh, avid choreography of Joseph Jones, every detail of this production felt inspired, intuitive and spot on.
The cast was thoroughly engaging, kinetic, involved and flowing with enthusiasm. Much as I hesitate to single out particular actors, the following were especially grand: Terry McEnroe (Luther Billis) Marjorie Hayes (Bloody Mary) Brian Mathis (Emile de Becque) Aaron White (Lieutenant Joseph Cable) and Morgan Mabry Mason (Ensign Nellie Forbush), a scintillating package of tenderness, lightning, and delight.
Garland Summer Musicals is one of the few major theater companies left in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that provide full live orchestras and large casts to mount the classic musicals that they produce year after year. Their production of South Pacific ranks as one of the best that they have mounted. The musical closes this weekend, so do NOT miss this gorgeous production that has a superb cast of leads and an equally terrific ensemble. Join GSM on their trip to Bali Hai!
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